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Waves review at Cottesloe National London

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‘The look of things has a great power over me’, Virginia Woolf told her diary as she started work on The Waves, a prose recitative of the thoughts of six friends from childhood to late middle-age, first published in 1931.

Katie Mitchell’s multimedia staging has taken this literally, turning almost every passing notion into a physical and visual image, from prescient dreams of a watery grave, seen through a goldfish bowl, to a meeting with one’s self reflected in the window of a tube train. Authorial interludes of waves on a seashore here become video seascapes. A clean-shaven cheek is seen at the point of lathering, raindrops splash across windowpanes, while telegrams announcing a death abroad are repeatedly opened, read and then crumpled or burned in despair.

Aural physicality goes even further, every incidental sound created and amplified using trays of gravel and Foley boards for footfalls, a door slamming effect, even the scrape of a fountain pen-knib in the act of making a business signature – all those backroom secrets of radio drama, save for the clatter of horses’ hooves.

Vicki Mortimer’s stage design looks like the stark setting for a recording session, a row of microphones flanked by racks and backed by a projection screen. Costumes are reduced to what will make an effective video image while inventive use of multiple videocams turns a lateral restaurant scene into a cosy meeting of friends across the table.

There is even the sudden intervention of a nervous ASM which may be a part of real life or art. And yet, while hedgehopping across the higher points of Woolf’s elusive text, the whole live performance, powerfully played, exactly captures the dreamy magic of the literary original, an experience that should repay more than one visit.

Production Information

Cottesloe, National, London, November 8-January 13

Devised by Katie Mitchell and the company from The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Katie Mitchell
National Theatre
Cast includes
Kate Duchene, Kristin Hutchinson, Sean Jackson, Paul Ready
Running time
2hrs 15mins

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